A Gum-Tree Exile: Randolph Bedford in Italy

Lucy Jane Sussex


Abstract

Randolph Bedford (1868–1941) was an Australian journalist, politician and novelist, a lifelong socialist despite making a small fortune from mining. He was among the ‘brain drain’ of Australians at the turn of last century, who hoped to emulate Melba’s success in England. Many of his contemporaries, such as Henry Lawson, experienced disillusion and poverty, and returned home. Bedford differed in his versatility, and also his profound rejection of the British Empire. He could not sell his novels initially, nor his speculations to British investors, but was able to put his mining experience to use in Italy. There he became one of the first Australians to fall in love with the country.

His attraction to Italy was partly aesthetic, its artistic glories, but also because it reinforced his sentimental Australian nationalism. He saw similarities in landscape, and also in climate. He wrote despatches back to the Bulletin called ‘Explorations in Civilization’, which became a book in 1916. The subtitle was ‘An Australian in Exile’, reversing the ‘Exiles We’, of the first settlers, with their nostalgia for Britain. In contrast, Bedford saw nothing good in London and the Empire. He disliked it upon first sight, and his irreverence and socialist sympathies had no place in the conservative British investment milieu.

Bedford would sell two novels in Britain, via Henry Lawson (whom he helped in London) and his literary agent J. B. Pinker. But he returned home, certain expatriate life was not for him, and devoted his energies to Australia. His real success was in Explorations in Civilization, superb travel-writing, perhaps his best work. It shows his love for his country being reinforced through the perceived similarities between it and Italy, a second homeland for him. He even paid its people his highest compliment: that they were his preferred settlers for Australia.

Keywords

Randolph Bedford; Australia; Italy; Travelwriting; Nationalism

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